Louisiana Bans the Box
Louisiana has become the first state in our union to “ban the box” in college admissions. If you’re not familiar with the “ban the box” expression, it’s about colleges inquiring on their applications if students have committed crimes in their past — either misdemeanors or felonies. In fact, we wrote just a couple of days ago about a group of students at Columbia University who have started a petition to ban the box. And while House Bill 688 in Louisiana only applies to public post-secondary institutions in Louisiana, the bill is demonstrative of a turning tide in college admissions.
As reports Shelley Brown on the topic of banning the box for “WVUE,” “Governor John Bel Edwards signed House Bill 688 into law on Friday, making Louisiana the first state in the nation to ban the box on college admissions applications. Starting this fall, the new law prohibits public post secondary education institutions in the state from inquiring about a potential student’s criminal history during admissions with some exceptions. ‘It makes me very happy because I don’t want anybody else to have to go through what I went through,’ said Syrita Steib of New Orleans. Steib was at the state capitol in Baton Rouge with her young son, Ethan, showing support for the so-called ban the box law. She spent almost a decade in prison after stealing cars from a Texas dealership, then torching the place. ‘Even though my crime didn’t involve people, I was still considered a violent offender,’ Steib said. As an inmate, she took college classes, but struggled to get into a university once she got out. She believes the box on her application was her barrier.”
We’re not sure where we stand on the issue of banning the box. We believe most — though not all — folks should have a chance for redemption. But when highly selective colleges are only offering admission to such small percentages of young people, shouldn’t people who have never committed crimes have an advantage over people who’ve broken the law? This is why we’re not so sure where we stand on the issue. We’re torn. Are you torn? Or do you have a strong opinion one way or the other? Let us know your thoughts on the issue of banning the box by writing a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you.
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College Admissions officers should handle it the same way many states now require public and some private employers to handle job applicants. The admissions application could not, in the first instance, request any information regarding arrests or convictions. Once the student was offered admission, only then could the college request information regarding any criminal convictions. The applicant would be required to answer truthfully and then the admissions officers would apply a balancing test involving several factors to arrive at its decision to allow the student to matriculate or to withdraw its offer of admission based solely on the nature and extent of the criminal history. A criminal record report would be obtained and such factors as the type of crime – violent/non-violent (assault, fraud, drugs, disorderly conduct, etc.), how long ago the crime occurred, risk to the college community, etc., time served with no subsequent criminal involvement, would all be considered. In this way, the an applicant would not be summarily denied admission.